This very timely document was issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Family and Life last Dec. 27, 2009 to enlighten and guide us on critical issues at stake in the upcoming May 2010 polls, particularly on controversial life issues such as the Reproductive Health Bill. This Pro-Life month, let us make a commitment to be more proactive in examining whether the leaders we will have respect for the dignity of the human life.
I divided this document into two parts, but if you wish to download the whole document, click here.
A CATECHISM ON FAMILY AND LIFE
FOR THE 2010 ELECTIONS
FOR THE 2010 ELECTIONS
1. Why is a Catechism for the 2010 Elections necessary?
We are going to face serious challenges in the 2010 Elections that are not only political but also clearly and profoundly moral. We are a nation that values family and life and yet for years our elected leaders have been attempting to make laws that pose a grave threat to these values. So once again we find the opportune occasion for the Church to exercise its teaching authority to guide us in carrying out their political responsibilities in a faithful citizenship.
The family has always been among the Church’s urgent concerns because it is both the Domestic Church and the Basic Unit of Society. A strong family is the only assurance to having a strong society.
In the 2004 and 2007 elections, the CBCP encouraged the faithful to exercise their Christian responsibility to be involved in politics in the conscientious selection of candidates, among others. We have consistently spoken out in defense of life and family. We do so again at this historic juncture in our national life.
As Catholic voters, we understand that to protect our society from the invasion of anti-life and anti-family values, we have to form our conscience well. This will enable us to use the power of our vote to demand accountability and coherence from our candidates. We would like to ensure that we have a democracy that is firmly founded on a consistent moral framework that will strengthen the foundation of our society and protect its weakest and most vulnerable members.
This Catechism is written primarily for the Family and Life Ministries of the different dioceses in the Philippines, which fall under the care of this Episcopal Commission. This is also intended as a reference for all families. The aim of this Catechism is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth with regards to family, life and responsible parenthood. It will help to make their faith operative when it comes to living their life in the Church and in society. The intention is not to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.
This Catechism cannot be read with a casuistic mentality, of one searching for a fine line dividing mortal sin from venial sin. Rather, it should be read from a magnanimous perspective of one who strives to ask how to best serve the Filipino, the Filipino family and the country.
2. Will this Catechism on family and life concerns not violate the separation of Church and State?
The separation of Church and State prohibits the State from interfering in Church matters, and prohibits the State from having a State religion. It does not imply a division between belief and public actions, between moral principles and political choices. In fact, the freedom of religion upheld by our Constitution protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.
The Church has the duty to teach Catholics about the importance of taking their Faith with them in all their endeavors, including voting. Catholics must live their faith in order to integrate God into their lives. For faith to be genuine, it must be evident not only in Church activities, but in all aspects of life, at work, at home, and in politics as well. The Constitution guarantees the right of each citizen to exercise his or her religion. Catholics who bring their moral convictions into public life do not threaten democracy or pluralism but rather enrich the nation and its political life.
Every Catholic is both a faithful of the Church and a citizen of our beloved Philippines. The exercise of this faithful citizenship means that when they go to the polls to vote they should not leave God outside. They should take with them, among others:
• A renewed understanding of how God views life: “God created male and female, in the divine image He created them” and “found them to be very good.” (Gen 1:27. 31).
• A remembrance that God created marriage and “that is why man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). It is not a lifestyle choice that the law can remake into something that God never intended it to be.
• Knowledge of what their beliefs as Catholics are and vote with a well-formed conscience.
3. Shouldn’t the Church be limited to the spiritual and religious realms alone?
The obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of our society is a basic part of the mission which the Church received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Second Vatican Council teaches that Christ, the Word made flesh, in showing us the Father’s love, also shows us what it truly means to be human (Gaudium et Spes 22). Christ’s love for us allows us to see our human dignity in full clarity and compels us to love our neighbors as he has loved us. Christ, the Teacher, shows us what is true and good, that is, what is in accord with our human nature as free, intelligent beings created in God’s image and likeness and endowed by the Creator with dignity and rights.
We Catholics share the same respect for the dignity of every person in common with many non-Catholics who accept these truths which are self-evident through the gift of reason. But undeniably what our Catholic faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life helps us to see more clearly these same truths because these are at the very core of the Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. Church authorities exercise their teaching function also by reminding Catholic civil leaders of their moral obligations, especially in matters related to family and life.
4. How do we Catholics enrich the democratic process this way?
Our manner of active involvement in the democratic process means that we will use the power of the vote, as citizens of the Republic, to elect political leaders who will uphold and promote the dignity of human life and the sanctity of family and marriage. Through our active participation in the democratic process, including voting, we contribute to ensuring that our democracy firmly underpins moral and ethical values and standards. In the absence of ethical values and standards democracy will become the totalitarian rule of the rich and the powerful who can trample on the rights of the weak and vulnerable, such as the unborn babies, mothers, the elderly and the poor families.
A law-making process that is based simply on the will of the majority and not on ethical principles can easily lead to unjust laws because the will of the majority can be manipulated by powerful interest groups, leaving the weak and vulnerable unprotected.
5. On family and life issues, including reproductive health, some Catholics justify their support for positions that are clearly against Church teachings by saying that they “simply follow their conscience.” Should we not follow our conscience?
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains to us that “moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil… When attentive to moral conscience, the prudent person can hear the voice of God who speaks to him or her” (no. 372). Conscience is thus not the same as one’s opinions or feelings.
One must always follow one’s conscience. But one also has the obligation to form one’s conscience, because of the possibility of having an erroneous conscience. “One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience” (no. 376).
6. As Catholics, how do we correctly form our conscience?
The same Compendium of the Catechism tells us that “an upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation” (no. 374).
The Church’s teaching authority, also known as the “Magisterium,” endowed by Christ Himself, assists us Catholics in understanding God’s will in specific issues. The Church, as our Mother and Teacher, takes into account what is happening in society and the data offered by the sciences and other fields of knowledge and offers us clear guidelines on certain specific questions.
Thus, for example, we should not think that “abortion is wrong because the Church says so,” but rather, “abortion is wrong because it kills a human being who is one of us, and the Church reminds us of its wrongness.” Indeed, whether the Church says so or not, abortion is always a most violent, unjust and inhumane act committed against the most harmless, defenseless, and weakest member of our society –the baby– and committed by those who have the greatest duty to care for, love and defend him or her most –the mother, father, doctors and other health care professionals.
Similarly, the intrauterine device (IUD) is not wrong because the Church says so. Rather it is wrong in itself whether the Church says so or not, because the IUD can kill a 5-day old baby by preventing him or her from implanting in the mother’s womb. In fact, it is medical literature and not Church dogma that describes the IUD’s modes of action, and it is from these sources that the Church bases her defense of the 5-day old baby. We were once like this 5-day old human being, and he or she, if not killed, would grow to become like us.
Through prayerful reflection of the Word of God and a careful study of Church teachings on family and life (as in other matters), we strive to live out our faith in the world. A well-formed conscience is always formed according to the official teachings of the Church, which Christ Himself instituted to guide us.
7. What does the Church teach regarding “responsible parenthood”?
The profound link between the conjugal union and the gift of life gives married couples a vocation to give life, as long as they can responsibly care for the children they beget. Hence, responsible parenthood calls for an understanding of the reproductive processes of the spouses’ bodies, including the woman’s fertility cycle. And as with any other passion (anger, fear, love for food, desire for more, etc.), the sexual drive should be placed under the control of the intellect and the will, through the exercise of virtues, rendering the sexual faculties truly and exclusively expressive of conjugal love and the self-giving of persons.
Responsible parenthood further involves the decision either (1) to generously raise a numerous family if the couple is capable of doing so, or (2) if there are serious reasons (health, economic, social, psychological, etc.), not to have another child for the time being or indefinitely ( Humanae Vitae 10).
Thus, responsible parenthood has nothing to do with encouraging individuals to use contraceptives as what reproductive health programs do. The sexual union is appropriate only within the context of marital love, which must always be faithful, permanent, and exclusive between one man and one woman that is open to the gift of new life.
Responsible parenthood also has nothing to do with encouraging or coercing couples whether directly or indirectly to have only one or two children. It is not a population control program. Neither the government nor the Church may tell couples how many children to have, for the decision to have either a small or a large family rests on the couple themselves.
(...to be continued)